Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

A Tale of Two Cities

Curitiba

Leaving for a weekend in the southern city of Curitiba to compete at the IBJJF Open, I made my packing decisions based on the fact it was Brazil, painfully oblivious to the multiple climates that exist in a country this size. In addition to my kimono, I equipped myself with nothing heavier than t-shirts and shorts.

As soon as I stepped foot off the plane and was welcomed by the bitter cold and a torrential downpour, I realised my mistake. At the hostel, I sought confirmation that this was just a blip on an otherwise unending summer’s day. These hopes were unequivocally dashed.

I was prepared to be cold and miserable for the entirety of my stay, warming myself with self-righteous indignation not to purchase a single extra item of clothing.

At breakfast the following morning, after detailing my plight, a kind Australian dude offered me his hoody. Such an act of altruism couldn’t help but make you feel very positive about your fellow man. Although, perhaps such kindness comes easier to those helping themselves to a healthy measure of vodka with their breakfast OJ.

Unfortunately, there was no good karma in store for my considerate benefactor, he was unceremoniously ejected from the hostel shortly after his charitable act. Less to do with alcohol issues and more to do with being an anti-social menace. I wasn’t privy to the details, but I had heard him belittling a crying baby; humans are full of contradictions!

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At the tournament I found myself waiting for my bracket cloaked in a rash guard, two t-shirts, the hoody, and my kimono. I was still freezing.

It appeared that I was the only idiot who was unaware of Curitiba’s Arctic-esque conditions; fellow competitors could be seen sporting hats, gloves and scarves, others huddled together under blankets to escape the onset of hypothermia.

Nevertheless, it was an awesome day on the mats. I had three matches, a comfortable points win in my first, a rear naked choke in the second and a closely fought final where I was given the nod via a referee’s decision.

I was overjoyed with the result after what had been a rather auspicious training camp in preparation for the tournament; traveling for a month with minimal time on the mats, and a neck injury which had prevented me from doing much rolling. In addition to a stomach bug the previous week which had kept me from training on pain of soiling myself.

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As I changed my clothes to leave, I discovered that my coconut water had leaked in my bag, consequently every item of clothing was thoroughly soaked. The fact that I was wet through, smelled of stale coconut, it was still pouring in rain and the temperature had dropped didn’t concern me with a gold medal warming up my sky rocket.

Back to the mats the following day for the no-gi, it had somehow become even colder. You know when the referee has a jacket under his shirt and his breath was clearly visible that it was too cold to be rocking nothing but shorts and a rash guard. Due to the temperature, the mats had transformed themselves into slabs of concrete which were perfect for tearing chunks of skin off feet and elbows.

I had another three matches but fell short of the previous day’s accomplishment. My adversary from yesterday’s final was able to exact his revenge with a 4-0 victory after taking my back. Even the fateful mistake of crossing his legs would not dissuade him from victory as he let his foot pop after I applied maximum pressure. He hopped his way to the podium to collect his gold and I had to settle for silver.

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To my complete shock, the sun came out the next morning which gave me a chance to explore Curitiba. The main talking point about the city seemed to be, just how good its transport system was, apparently it was the envy of the world; a number of other countries (my sources varied on a figure) had emulated it exactly. In fairness, it was extremely efficient; unlike Rio, the bus drivers didn’t display any obvious genocidal tendencies.

During my aimless wander around the city, I witnessed a very large man being arrested. Struggling police officers had forced him onto the ground, one was kneeling on his head, two others stood by with guns at the ready, a fourth officer put him in handcuffs. The dude was not making their job easy, he was thrashing around, screaming and trying to stand up, basically the exact opposite of how I would react if a Brazilian policeman had a gun pointed at my dome.

I wasn’t aware, but it must have been crowd participation day. As the situation unfolded, a random member of the public appeared from the large group of onlookers and started kicking ass. I’m not being facetious; he was literally aiming kicks into the handcuffed man’s behind. I am assuming this was a misplaced effort to aid the police. What was wild, the police just stood by and let the good Samaritan do his thing.

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Manaus

My time in Curitiba was perfectly contrasted by a visit to Manaus, a city in the Northwest of Brazil in the heart of the Amazonas. I had visited the previous year to compete, yet, somehow in the eschewing twelve months, I had forgotten just how humid it was. In the sweltering humidity of the city one doesn’t even have to move in order to sweat. Just sitting down reading would result in a flow of precipitation cascading through your fingers.

Matters are not helped by the presence of open sewers throughout the city, the intense heat magnified the overpowering stench of faeces.

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I was back to compete at the IBJJF Manaus Open. Having won gold in both the gi and no-gi last year, I was there for nothing less than a repeat.

From the offset, I was lucky to even win my first match in the gi. I fell prey to a kimura – but as my shoulder was about to explode, my opponent thankfully gave up on it, from there, I was able to sweep and pass for the victory.

In the final after a quick sweep to take the top position, I found myself in a wrist-lock out of nowhere. As a proponent of this nefarious hold, the audacity of it being applied led to my refusal to capitulate until my tendons began to tear. I had to suppress the urge to scream ‘FUCK’ at the top of my lungs.

The silver medal seemed largely irrelevant, I had just been wrist-locked in front of hundreds of people; the humiliation of it, I wanted to cry. My gracious opponent sensing my distress even apologized for his beautiful application of this universally maligned submission.

While my performance was far better in the no-gi, it led to the same result, the acquisition of a silver medal. Losing out again to my new friend, Wilson in what was probably my favorite competitive match.

In the final, I pulled guard and was nearly passed from the offset, surviving a near back-take and arm-bar attempt. I rallied and we went sweep for sweep, I had a number of near back-takes and a close call with a gogoplata attempt. The match ended 2-2 on points and 2-2 on advantages. I believed, that I had done enough to win, but it was not to be and Wilson was awarded the decision.

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I had a litany of complaints due to what I felt was discriminatory refereeing throughout the day,  the arbitrary awarding of advantages to my opponents, I would do the same and receive nothing. There certainly isn’t any gringo-privilege in the Amazon. However, it is more important to lament my own performance which for the most part sucked. I had come with the goal of double gold, even with two silvers I left Manaus feeling severe disappointment. Although, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer dude.

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Jiu-Jitsu & Guns: A Very Rio Homecoming

I arrived back in Rio for another extended stay in my home away from home. Rocking my sleep deprivation like a badge of honour, I skipped off the plane at 4:30 A.M. on an already humid Saturday morning. Even at that hour there was Olympic based craziness going on; cats in team tracksuits with bemused looks on their faces being herded in different directions by tirelessly cheerful Olympic staff, sporting a somewhat bizarre combo of yellow shirts with beige pants.

My plan after making my way to Ipanema was to traverse the big-ass hill into Cantagalo’s favela community, spend some time with my adopted Brazilian family, before making it out to the open-mat at Filipe Costa’s academy at 10 A.M. After nearly three weeks off the mats, I was fiending to strangle fellow human beings.

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However, upon my arrival at the fam’s abode, my stomach was lovingly filled with a ‘breakfast’ of bread, cheese and cake, whilst I regaled my adventures up to that point in incomprehensible Portuguese. That was me done. I could only dream of Jiu-Jitsu; my body decided a visit to snooze-town was of utmost priority.

This homecoming was all types of awesome. It was the third year that I have been staying with Selme, her daughter Anna Paula; and Anna’s two sons, Gabriel and young Vinicious. I was reminded just how privileged I was, I had acquired a second family, fortunately, one less dysfunctional than my own.

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Above all, the highlight of my return was kicking it with my little brother and partner in crime, seventeen-year-old, Gabriel. He was my main training partner on the mats, as well as off the mats where we indulge in marathon sessions of Dragon Ball Z and the consumption of inhuman amounts of acai.

Post-nap, my afternoon was occupied by a family birthday party for Gabriel’s aunt, Renata. The bulk of my time was spent attempting to explain why I wasn’t eating any meat, which in Brazil is akin to suffering from a complete psychological breakdown. I did not possess the linguistic skill to explain that I’d had a vision under the influence of ayahuasca, which convinced me of our oneness with all the creatures of the Earth. Thus I had made an immediate decision to stop the consumption of animal carcasses. What I was able to say was, ‘because I like animals’. Consequently, and justifiably, I became the butt of everyone’s joke.

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Monday brought my first day back on the mats after nearly three weeks estranged from my love. This was the longest time we’d spent apart in seven years, I was under no false illusions that there could be a failure at performing to my usual standards.

During the evening training at the FT Academy battle lines were drawn and cats slap hands and go to war. International black belt competitor, Switzerland’s own Thomas Oyarzún, was training at the academy. He was readying himself for the Masters Worlds after foregoing the 2016 competitive season to raise money for Terere’s charity, Terere Kids Project. Having watched the dude compete for years now, it was awesome getting to train together. My first roll meant a full seven minutes fighting to maintain my consciousness.

My second roll was with Mestre Tererê himself, which is still a magical experience no matter how many times we share the mat; as we slapped hands that Christmas morning excitement was visible on my face for all to see. After that, I had exhausted what little I had in the tank, but there would be no respite for me.

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Returning this year, the mats at the academy have become a scary place, there was no easy rounds. Case in point as training continued, I was paired with one of the young dudes from the project, fourteen-year-old orange belt, Leo “Bebezao” Bandeira. I immediately discovered that he possessed a passing game akin to a young Rodolfo. In the interest of honesty, this young Spartan was delivering me a beat-down of seismic proportions. He performed blitzkrieg and my guard crumbled. To survive this onslaught, I am not too ashamed to admit; I was forced to foot-lock him. Attacking the feet is something that is still considered untoward here, and foot-locking a child is deemed a cardinal sin, I was condemned to Jiu-Jitsu hellfire! 13879309_1153238384739295_4525935531208867353_n

Walking back through the favela after that evening’s session, Gabriel and myself encountered two young gentlemen; one held something to my chest. Due to the darkness I immediately arrived at the conclusion that it was a knife. I reacted accordingly and jumped back, unfortunately letting out a rather high pitched yelp. Gabriel hastily informed me it was actually one of the academy’s young students wanting to shake my hand. In my defence it was pitch black, nevertheless it was rather humiliating!

I actually ended up teaching the following morning due to Professor Fabricio suffering a knee injury, this was an amazing experience, delivering a session at my hero’s academy. Well, until disaster struck.

During positional sparring, I inverted to escape a back-take. As all my weight was on my neck, my partner chose that moment to jump on top of me. The resulting situation was two dudes on one neck. The multiple popping noises alerted me to the fact that something was awry. One full day of training and I was hurt, with my birthday the next day. An inability to train wasn’t exactly the present that I had been looking for!

As a result of the Olympics, there was a much diminished police presence in the favela. There was only one occasion during the week that I had a gun pointed at me – by the police anyway. As officers rolled past in their squad car, it was impossible not to notice the long barrel of some godforsaken weapon protruding ominously out of the window in my direction. This was unsettling no matter how many times it occurred, a device of death in the hands of cats you wouldn’t trust to look after a sandwich.

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Due to this lack of police, there were young guys brazenly strolling around with their own weaponry out. On my way to training one evening, three young dudes casually rolled past, each armed with a pistol, with equally menacing expressions on their mugs.

A couple of days later, I was walking back up through the favela in the middle of the day. I was confronted by a teenager with a pistol in hand. This guy could have been no older than sixteen. My issue with this chance meeting was, the aforementioned pistol was pointed directly at me; he demanded to know exactly what I was doing there.

In fairness, he was one of the least threatening individuals you could hope to meet (minus the gun!) so the situation wasn’t as intimidating as it might sound. When I explained to him that I lived in the community, he became cordial, even throwing me a ‘valeu’ or two at me (thanking me) before sending me on my merry way. Nevertheless, I was somewhat relieved that he asked me a question that I knew how to respond to – things might not have ended so amicably otherwise!

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Friday night’s training (well I should say, me watching Friday night’s training) brought a measure of hilarity to my otherwise glum, Jiu-Jitsu repressed mood. I watched two large black belts, one over a hundred kilos and the other one dangerously close to the same figure, cajole one another as they rolled with a fifteen-year-old green belt, Jhonathan ‘Moicano’ Marques. Whilst Moicano was berimboloing and climbing on the back of one of them, the other would be taunting from the sidelines, providing a running commentary of the action. Although, extracting some measure of revenge, I watched said black belt attempt to gogoplata the young whizz-kid with his own leg, in what was one of the weirdest positions I have ever seen. Sometimes flexibility can work against you!

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Searching for Jiu-Jitsu in South America

Peru

Circumstances conspired against me to train any Jiu-Jitsu in Peru. Straight from the plane in Lima my first port of call was Renzo Gracie Lima. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed for two hours in Bogota, Colombia. This killed my plans, dead.

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Whilst waiting for a taxi I met a young dude who’d been on the same flight and going to the same hostel; sharing a cab, it came up that we also shared the same home town, Macclesfield, in what was a rather bizarre coincidence. Although any affection for the young gentlemen evaporated quickly. Whilst I was dozing off, he burst enthusiastically into the dorm room enquiring if he could use the bunk to sample old charley. Apparently the toilets and showers were already overcrowded with like-minded souls becoming acquainted with Peru’s infamous marching powder.

Things soured even further when I was violently pulled from my slumber after being hit from the bunk above with, what I discovered was a stinky-ass sock. To make matters worse, he was clearly engaging in a coke-addled act of penetration with, some hapless female. I resisted the immediate urge to pull him from the bed above and choke him into a sock-less slumber. I drifted back off, hoping he remained as flaccid as a marshmallow that had been left in the bath overnight.

I arrived in the city of Cusco for the culmination of a lifetime’s dream, visiting Machu Picchu.

On the Jiu-Jitsu front, I had sourced the one and only MMA academy in the city, but as luck would have it, they were in the process of moving locations and currently not open.

Upon reflection, I was actually saved some discomfort. Cusco sits at 3,400 metres above sea level; I literally had to suck in the air required to fill my lungs.

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The struggle for oxygen resulted in a couple of instances of my body failing me. The first occurred after leaving the shower; I felt incredibly light-headed, my legs gave in and I fell over. The floor wasn’t wet, my body had just decided it needed to be off its feet. Fortunately, there was no one around to revel in my embarrassment.

I was not afforded the same privacy for the second occasion. Just twenty minutes later I left the hostel. As I walked downhill, the same light headed sensation struck me, my legs buckled and I came a cropper. I bounced up with all the gusto I could muster before any concerned onlookers could offer me assistance or their pity and moved quickly to find pizza. My lungs really struggled to acquire enough oxygen to feed my brain, I have a feeling that a session of Jiu-Jitsu would have ended on the wrong side of Snooze City.

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The aim of the trip, visiting Machu Picchu, fell victim to my own inadequate planning. This did indeed suck. Whilst I’d booked the tickets for the (apparently) awe-inspiring Incan citadel, I had not booked train tickets to get there, which was seemingly essential. When I came to do this (the night before!) the only tickets that remained, necessitated me leaving the site before I set off to get there. I pondered it, and concluded that would be an issue.

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My final two days in Peru after a return to Lima happened to be national holidays, so no Jiu-Jitsu!

Colombia

The city of Cali, in Colombia proved to be somewhat more fruitful for getting my Jiu-Jitsu on. Whilst Jiu-Jitsu is still very much in its infancy there, I did find a number of clubs. I was initially looking to train during the day, but there were no spots offering day classes. But, in my quest, I had been in communication with a Cali based blue belt called Andreas, who trained at MMA academy, Striking Fitness. He kindly offered to open up the gym to train together.

The midday heat threatened to fry me into a patacon, thus I was more than happy at the suggestion of No-Gi. My new friend knew no English, I knew no Spanish, yet in-between rounds, we managed to discuss an array of subjects: Jiu-Jitsu, life in Colombia, his passion for dogs and women with long black hair. Andreas explained to me that the academy was run by a purple belt which was the highest rank in the city, you had to go all the way to Colombia’s capital, Bogota to find any brown and black belts.

After the session, he insisted on walking me home. He was convinced, that I would find myself at the mercy of the nefarious elements that are omnipresent in the city, who would look to exploit a lost and dopey looking gringo, he was probably right too!

Venturing out of the city, I took a visit to the town of San Cipriano, which was a small shanty-town, which attracts native Colombians and tourists alike for its crystal clear river than runs through the jungle. There was absolutely no Jiu-Jitsu, but like everywhere else I visited in Colombia, there was ample opportunity to get your salsa on.

Entrance to the town could not be made by road. The first step in reaching it was a Temple of Doom-esque footbridge, needless to say, I feared for my life, fortunately I was not met by a scary bald man screaming in Hindi. Looking down, there were no alligators awaiting my fall either, but there was certainly a great deal of pain from a lengthy drop through the plethora of missing planks.

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The second stage in this mission to get into town necessitated the use of interesting contraptions, called Brujitas. They were essentially a motorbike powered vehicle affixed to a sheet of plywood with some seats on it, which ran along a train track. I was rather concerned as this bad-boy picked up speed with me sat one cheek hanging off the edge. From this point, I held on for dear life, with visions of being thrown off and having my head ran over like Bryan Harvey.

I spent the afternoon exploring the river on an inner tube, drifting leisurely on the water watching the picturesque jungle scenery roll by. There were no Indy style waterfall drops, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. I came upon some rapids, albeit small ones, and was spun around backwards. Without the ability of being able to see what was ahead, it came as an unpleasant surprise when I hit the branches of a tree, and was thrown from the tube and pulled under. In my usual melodramatic fashion, I felt death via drowning was imminent, I flapped around uncontrollably for a second or two, prior to realising that I could actually stand! The real tragedy of the situation, I’d been wearing my Cons around my neck, they were soaked; I had to squelch around rocking wet kicks for the rest of day.

The next Jiu-Jitsu based stop was, Gracie Barra Cali, taking part in their weekly open-mat. During a week devoid of training, I had  eaten and drank with a reckless ill regard for the prospect of any serious athletic endeavor. Thus rolling 5×8 minute rounds was the ultimate test of inner fortitude. By the second round I was dying, by the third I was just working very diligently to suppress the vomit! The heat was incredibly oppressive, it had been eight months since I’d been to war in that kind of temperature. I spent the rest of the day walking around in a Jiu-Jitsu inflicted haze, happy yet a little confused.

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The immaculate academy I discovered had only been in existence for less than a month. Opened as a joint venture by friends and all round awesome dudes, Rafael Diazgranados and Richie Panchalo, blue and purple belts respectively, they had joined the Gracie Barra banner after their small independent team had dissolved. I was thoroughly honored shaking hands at the climax of the session to be asked to come back and teach a class the following Wednesday.

I have to admit, I never thought that I would find myself teaching at a Barra school, much less in South America. Nevertheless, I was privileged to find myself doing so. There was a much larger crowd than my first visit, a real hodgepodge of students, with varying degrees of experience, some Gi clad, others going No-Gi, older guys and athletic young competitors. In an effort accommodate all, I taught a passing system that I’d stole off my dude, Darragh O Conaill.

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I had to be translated; my aspiring Spanish had not quite reached the necessary level yet. I did a lot of smiling and shouting “Osssss” with extreme vigor, to get my point across successfully. Again, the rolling was tough, in particular a huge bear like blue belt whose base was so strong it felt akin to sweeping a tree. I had just spent the few days prior in the Colombian Andes at the beautiful coffee town of Salento, during my visit I’d practically lived off their next-level delicious peanut butter based produce. During the rolling, I found myself profusely sweating peanut oil, whilst attempting not to pass out in a herculean effort against the aforementioned blue belt.

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Spending time with Rafael and Richie, one could not help but be intoxicated by their love and enthusiasm for Jiu-Jitsu. They had sought to create an atmosphere where they could express, what they felt was the true BJJ lifestyle, one that was not dependent on athleticism or competition but one which was grounded in inclusion, the idea that Jiu-Jitsu is for absolutely everyone. Looking around at the academy that night, I would say they had already achieved it.